A/N: This story would not have been nearly as good and polished without the help and feedback of timesup.
As the waitress set the food on the table, Steed looked at Sarah Jane quizzically. "A vinaigrette? That reminds me of the advice the Doctor gave us in our case. It's been declassified," he said, with a mischievous glance at Mrs. Peel, "so I can tell you some of the details. The case itself involved anonymous letters some MPs were receiving. Each letter accused that MP of being an alien. We were directed to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart."
"I see. And what does that have to do with the photos you've shown me?"
"When we arrived at Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart's office, both Rose Tyler and Doctor John Smith were there. The Doctor got our case mission confused, however-- he seemed to think that we were determining if the threats were true, not where they were originating. In the end, he told us that spilling vinegar-based salad dressing on the MPs would tell us if they were aliens, but he wouldn't say how. It was all very curious."
"You still haven't answered my
question, Mr. Steed."
"You're quite right. I'd actually seen those two before I saw them in the Brigadier's office. Earlier that day, a blue police box suddenly existed on the corner outside my flat, and I saw two people emerge from it. I followed them, and with Mrs. Peel's help, looked up some of the names I'd heard in their conversation and in the Doctor's conversation with the Brigadier. That's how I ended up with the curious photo of you-- your name was one of the ones I'd overheard, and the photo was in the Department's archives." Steed paused for a moment, then continued. "As for the Deffry Vale photo, I just happened to be reading the paper and noticed the photo and your byline. And now, I believe, it's my turn to ask for some answers."
Inwardly, Sarah Jane tensed up. She wasn't sure how much Steed knew about the Doctor-- he'd seen the TARDIS, but did he know what it was? How can I even begin to explain how Rose and the Doctor looked the same now as they did then without giving everything away?
"My working theory, however improbable, is that Rose Tyler is some sort of alien who has enabled Doctor Smith to stay with her and not age."
"And how have you come to that rather fanciful conclusion, Mr. Steed?" asked Sarah Jane.
"We found those two together twice, but the third time we found Rose, in a photo at the destruction of 10 Downing Street, she was with a different man, a supposed expert called in for an alien threat. I ask that you answer me honestly on this-- is Rose an alien?"
Smiling at Steed as though his idea was perfectly ridiculous, Sarah Jane shook her head. "I can definitively say that Rose is not an alien."
"Then why was she at 10 Downing Street that day and at Deffry Vale when it exploded?"
"I can't speak to her presence in Downing Street-- she never mentioned it to me-- but I do know that the Doctor was investigating the UFO sighting nearby for his work and they needed to stay inconspicuous in the area, so they got jobs at the local school."
"His work? And does the Doctor really work for the Ministry of TARDIS, as he told us?"
Sarah Jane nearly spit out the water she was drinking. She could just imagine the Doctor cheekily announcing that
. Who knew what he'd told them TARDIS meant-- certainly not Time And Relative Dimension In Space.
Clearing her throat, she said, "Yes, he definitely works closely with the 'Ministry of TARDIS.' I don't think he be able to go anywhere without it."
Now a smile was tugging at the corners of her mouth as she silently contained her mirth.
"If she isn't an alien, then how could they have vanished from the street so fast with that police box?" queried Steed.
"Think of it like a magician's secret. Does a great illusionist reveal his mirrors, the trick of the light, and his sleight of hand?"
"Well then, how can Rose and the Doctor look the same after 40 years?"
Sarah Jane's face straightened into a more serious expression, but she couldn't help tossing out an explanation worthy of the Doctor. "You should see what they’re doing with face cream these days!"
Mrs. Peel raised her eyebrows at that, but Steed conceded the question and moved on.
"And where do you fit into all of this? How was that photo possible, and who was that man? It was labeled 'The Doctor,' but it can't possibly be the same man, can it?"
"I believe I'll stay silent on my part in this. As for the man in the photo and the Doctor you met? Let's just say that they're similar in temperament but not in appearance," Sarah Jane said cryptically.
"I see," said Steed, frowning slightly.
"And I have no doubt, Mr. Steed, that if the Doctor said salad dressing was the way to expose aliens, he was absolutely serious. Mind you, until a crisis hits, he often doesn't act serious," said Sarah Jane, a twinkle in her eye.
Pushing back her chair, Sarah Jane stood. "The Doctor and Rose are good people, and if I find that you're trying to hurt them-- just remember that I'm well-connected too. If they visit you again, I'm sure they'd love to hear your theories..."
Steed and Mrs. Peel stood up as Sarah Jane made her way out of the café.
"I wonder if we'll ever see those two again," mused Mrs. Peel.
Steed turned to her with a half-smile. "Time will tell, Mrs. Peel."
*I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I loved writing it. Please let me know your thoughts on my story. If I can come up with a good enough plot, I might write a sequel. No such plot has germinated just yet, though...*